As I write this, I’ve got a little green Frog sitting on my shoulder. Not just any little Frog though- this is a Froggie Bird. A Froggie bird that, a year ago today, would never have dreamed of perching on the shoulder of a human. (We are, quite obviously, Bird-Eating-Monsters you know.) But here we are, exactly one year later, quite bonded, and on much better terms.
January is Adopt a Rescue Bird Month, and January 29th, 2017, I brought home my first rescue bird. After learning that this unidentified little green parrot was in need of a home, I went to a shelter in Baltimore County to meet it. The poor bird, who came in with the name “Topsy”, had come to the shelter with a friendly little green cheek conure, who quickly found a home. So alone, adrift from its previous life, this bird cowered in the corner of its cage. Two days before, its wings had been clipped rather roughly, removing any ability to fly with confidence. I could tell it was terrified. The shelter, as wonderful as those places are, was not familiar with birds. When I opened the cage door and stepped away, I saw visible relief from the bird, that hands were not coming to grab it. When I asked to hold it, they told me no- if the bird bit me, it would be “unadoptable”- we all know what that means. Bye-bye birdie. So, having never physically interacted with this somewhat bedraggled creature, I signed the papers to bring it home.
Oh boy. What I got was a screaming, terrified mess. Hands were a BIG no-no. But, I signed up to love and care for you kiddo, and that’s what I’m gonna do. Below is my first picture of Froggie. She looks a little rough.
Rescue birds, like any other rescued animal, require lots of extra patience. Froggie would scream, in her/his (we find out next month!) angry squeaky toy voice, for stretches of time that did not seem to ever end. When frightened, when hungry, when needing attention...screams. It takes some time to change screaming behavior. Patience. The first thing I knew I had to do, to accomplish anything with this bird, was to establish trust. I have no idea of this bird’s background. Whether it came from a loving home, its age, how it was treated...nothing. All I could do was reassure the bird that its future, with me, was going to be a good one.
The key, I’ve found, was lots of research. There are numerous websites with lots of information on acclimating a bird to a new home (this blog will be expanding on it at later dates), training or applied behavioral analysis (fancy training terms!), and information specific to your type of bird. Ideally, you want to do the research first. Find out what treats your bird might like, safety hazards (such as Teflon and cleaning products), proper cage size, appropriate toys, dietary and sleep needs, and general behavior. I found Facebook groups very helpful for information and feedback.
So I sat, and I talked to Froggie. I sat far enough away so as to not cause distress, and moved closer as her comfort level grew. I offered treats often, speaking to her gently, to build in her mind an association between me and good things happening to her. I cannot stress enough the importance of choice for birds- letting them decide to move closer, and letting them determine the pace. Her cage was and always will be, her safe place. I did not violate that by sticking my hand in it to get her out. She comes out on her terms. I asked nothing of Froggie, not a single “step up”, until she gained some confidence in her safety and our relationship. Eventually, she would accept a treat from me. Hurray for progress! However, she still lunged for any hand that came near...that was gonna take awhile. And take a while it did. But we made baby steps, compromises. She eventually grew comfortable enough to step up onto my arm, hand hidden inside a long sleeve. No skin, thank you very much! From there, she graduated to shoulder.
After some time, I was able to get Froggie to step up onto my bare hand, as long as she was not on her cage when I asked. She’s still very territorial of it, as some birds are. I respect that boundary, and invite her to a perch or another cage before asking her to step up. Building that trust was imperative, because we had to have it to push her past her comfort zone. Once she trusted me, I was able to slowly start to desensitize her to hands being in her space. It’s important to do this at their pace, where the bird is maybe a little beyond comfort, but not stressed out. Once she realized that lunging at my fingers wasn’t going to make me pull away, she stopped doing it as much (she still tries to boss me when she thinks she can get away with it).
Nowadays, Froggie is my velcro bird. If her cage door is open, she wants to be on my shoulder. (That’s the best place to help eat mom’s breakfast from!) She’s still not a big fan of hands, but as you can see, I can now give scritches!
So, as an overview, please realize that all birds are individuals. The process of acclimating a new bird to your home could take days, weeks, months, years even. Research. Establish trust. Have patience…lots of patience. Let your bird determine the pace. Do some more research. Associate yourself with positive experiences for the bird. Talk to other bird owners, your vet, and your support network. Give the bird time to adjust and adapt. Birds are incredibly resilient, strong, intelligent creatures. By giving a rescue bird a home, and the time, attention, respect, and love it needs, you are giving them a second chance at life. And boy, do they deserve it. The tiny steps of progress you make will feel huge, when they show that tiny bit of trust. There’s no other feeling like it in the world.
Bearded Dragons can make excellent pets for those who want a lizard that can be handled, but also have enough space for larger tank or enclosure.
So your child has expressed interested in a scaley friend or perhaps you are hoping to get into the reptile hobby yourself! Undoubtedly, you've heard someone mention "bearded dragons" as a good beginner pet. While they are very common in the pet trade, they have their own pros and cons.
One of the difficult aspects of the reptile-keeping hobby is maintaining the right environment for your pet. This is typically measured in terms of temperature and humidity. For example, an animal that is native to the rainforest would need to have that environment mimicked in its enclosure in captivity. For most people, recreating a rainforest inside their own home can present a daunting challenge. Since Bearded Dragons are native to the woodlands and deserts of Australia, new owners can focus on getting the correct temperatures for their pet without the added complication of higher humidity requirements.
Additionally, Bearded Dragons have a naturally more docile temperament. Active youngsters can become calm and mellow adults with regular handling. All young lizards will tend to be flighty, but hatchling bearded dragons are relatively calmer compared to young water dragons or iguanas. At a typical pet store, baby bearded dragons will be easier for a novice to handle than baby leopard geckos. However, leopard geckos may make better pets for those who want an animal that has less demanding space requirements or those who tend not to be home during the day.
You may have seen the cute baby lizards that look like the picture on the left. These pictures are of the same lizard! Most will reach adult size within the first year.
A Bearded Dragon's size can be a pro or a con depending on what someone is looking for in their pet. On one hand, their size makes them a more interactive pet. It's much easier to supervise a free roaming adult bearded dragon when they are easier to catch and cannot fit into impossibly small spaces like an anole or a gecko. They also are not as large as other lizards such as tegus and iguanas that could easily cause harm to people or other pets. Of course, these medium-sized lizards will need larger enclosures than other typical beginner species (such as the leopard gecko mentioned earlier). An enclosure that is four feet by two feet might be a good home for a bearded dragon that is also allowed time out of its enclosure for exercise. This is not the type of habitat that can be easily fit on top of a bookcase and blend in with the room's decor. While it is common practice to keep bearded dragons in a 40 gallon glass tank, this might not work for every lizard. Some will be too large or active and others may be stressed by their own reflection.
Bigger lizards also mean bigger appetites! Baby bearded dragons can certainly run up a feeding tab. Most of their diet will consist of crickets, mealworms, and roaches. As they get older, they may show more of an interest in fruits, carrots, and other leafy green vegetables. It's not uncommon for a baby bearded dragon to eat $20-$40 worth of food in one week! They will need to be fed daily and will need their meals to be dusted with calcium (with D3) to support their bone growth. Adult bearded dragons may only need to eat every few days, but you can still expect to spend about $5-$10 per week on food. Bearded Dragons are diurnal which means that they are only active during the day. It is best to feed them after they have had a chance to warm up in the morning, but not too late in the day that their bodies will not have the heat necessary to digest their food. Food that is not consumed should be removed. People who have busy schedules during daylight hours may find it difficult to find a good feeding time for their lizard.
A Bearded Dragon may be a great addition to your home, but make sure to do your research first! These lizards typically live 10-15 years, so they are no minor commitment. It is not uncommon for owners to become "bored" with their pet. Never release a pet into your surrounding environment. Not only is this harmful for your pet, but it can also be harmful for the local ecosystem. There are many methods for re-homing or surrendering a pet that is no longer wanted. Please research these options for your area. If you are considering a new reptile pet, make sure that you have the physical and financial resources to care for your new friend. As exciting as it may be to see a baby grow into an adult, consider contacting your local reptile rescue to find out if they have any bearded dragons that are up for adoption.
Pet lizards have become more popular in recent years and the Bearded Dragon may have had a significant contribution to this rise in popularity. Their unique appearance and calm temperament make for great handeable pets as long as they have owners that are willing to meet the requirements for their care.
About the blog
Ferrets and Friends, LLC has four writers bringing you information on a variety of topics from pets to wildlife, education to conservation, and from new developments in our business to information about our industry. Learn something new each week!